Mineral Wells ISD employees Monday were given 3.6 million reasons to be excited for the new school year. Property owners in the district were also given something to smile about.
Before a room filled with appreciative school district teachers, employees and administrators with more watching online from an overflow conference room, the MWISD board of trustees unanimously approved a new employee compensation plan providing a historic $3.6 million in raises, designed to not only make the district more competitive in teacher hirings, but also keeping them.
District officials said not only are the teacher raises the largest one-year increase in the history of MWISD, they might be the largest this year in the entire state.
The new pay proposal is part of the proposed 2019-2020 operating budget and take effect with the new fiscal year Oct. 1.
Also, the board Monday received the proposed fiscal year 2020 property tax rate that Finance Director Paul Hearn said will lower 3 cents per $100 valuation, from the current $1.43 down to $1.3987. That includes a 10-cent reduction in the district's maintenance and operations rate, but increases the debt service rate 7 cents.
Both the raises and property tax reduction are the results of a major overhaul in school finance passed earlier this year by the Texas Legislature that pumped an extra $4.5 billion in the state's school districts and classrooms and provided $1.6 billion toward raising teachers' salaries. Additionally, Texas lawmakers in the 86th legislative session approved a property tax reform package designed to provide relief from rising ad valorem taxes.
District employees gave board members a rousing shout and standing ovation following the vote to accept the new compensation plan. One employee went to the trustees' dais to individually thank and shake their hands.
"Teachers in Mineral Wells have been behind for a really long time," Superintendent Dr. John Kuhn told the Index afterward. "Hopefully with this gigantic step forward we are able to do something about it."
Kuhn said the pay increases are not just good for the teachers and employees, but also for the community.
"This infusion of $3 million new dollars into the hands of ISD employees will impact the local Mineral Wells economy and will help boost local sales taxes, as local spending power will increase significantly," he said.
MWISD is receiving about $4.3 million in additional state funding. It was required to provide $990,000 in teacher salary increases, but district administration decided to give more than three times that – nearly all of the additional revenue – in the form of employee raises.
The changes in pay scales are dramatic under the new plan. First-year teacher pay in the district will rise $7,600, from $37,400 annually to $45,000.
"That is smallest bump on the pay scale," said Kuhn of the rise in pay that comes with additional years of service.
The teacher raises range from approximately 20 percent to about 33 percent. Employees on the teacher pay scale include teachers, nurses, librarians, MCLs and counselors.
"Non-teachers will see raises of 6.25% of their midpoint, a large increase from the 2-3% raises we see in a typical year," Kuhn noted.
The district's new compensation plan varies somewhat from those found in other North Texas districts. Some districts – ones that Mineral Wells ISD typically competes with in teacher pay and retention – are putting more of their raises at the front of their compensation packages to be more attractive to new teachers and hires.
MWISD is "back-loading" their compensation plan such that a teacher with eight years of local service will be paid more than their counterparts in Aledo, Brock, Springtown, White Settlement and Graham. A teacher with 11 years and more of local service will be paid more than teachers with similar experience in all of those districts plus Weatherford ISD.
A MWISD teacher with 24 years of service or more is scheduled to receive an annual salary of $67,080.
"We want to close the gap between what we pay and what some of the schools to our east pay and we are doing that," said Kuhn. "We are actually going to pay more for teachers after eight or 11 years of experience than some of the big schools to our east. We are actually outpacing them for some of the better teachers."
He said the district wanted to place higher pay emphasis on retaining good teachers to help the district continue its course of academic progress and improvement.
"We have typically struggled to hire and retain teachers," Kuhn said. "It has been hard for us to pay what schools to our east have paid."
Kuhn said the district saw a 26% teacher turnover rate in the 2016-17 school year and 22% the year after.
"That is really hard on students, it is hard on the school district to try and maintain progress if you bring in a new program, train them and then they leave," Kuhn said. "All of a sudden you have new batch of teachers that haven't been trained in this program. The ability to retain great teachers, the ability to attract great teachers is something we really try hard to improve."
The first step in improving teacher pay came three years ago when district voters approved a tax-ratification election that brought nearly $2 million in additional revenue to the district that went entirely to salary increases.
"We did it a few years ago through the TRE. We have done that again this time," Kuhn said.
As if the raises aren't enough, the district is set to provide a couple of other employee perks with the coming fiscal year. The health insurance premium for ActiveCare 1 HD (employee-only) will be covered fully by the ISD. Employees will pay the costs for any family members on the plan. Also, staff members who eat in the cafeteria with the students will only be charged $1 for lunch and breakfast.
"MWISD teachers have been paid significantly below the state average for teacher pay for many years," Kuhn stated. "This change is dramatic, but it is long overdue and I am extremely happy for our teachers. They are very deserving. I hope everyone is as happy for them as I am."
The district's new school year begins Thursday morning.